With You Soy La Tradicion, alto saxophonist Miguel Zenon digs deep into his Puerto Rican roots with an exploration of his take on the "jazz with strings" genre. This is his eleventh CD release as a leader. He dabbled in the approach with Awake (Marsalis Music, 2008), adding a string quartet to his jazz quartet on a handful of the disc's tunes. Yo Soy La Tradition is a purer string/horn experiencejust Zenon's golden-toned alto sax joining forces with the Spektral Quartet.
Searching for a touchstone for the sound, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz's Focus (Verve Records, 1962) comes to mind. Focus features Getz with the larger canvas of an orchestra, but the approachthat of full integration of string arrangements with the horn voicings rather than the sax blowing over a subtle backdropis the same.
Zenon's take on the folkloric Puerto Rican sound, a mix a African, native and Spanish influences, is mixed with his own ideas and musical history and comes up with a work of superb beautysometimes emotional and urgent, other times solemn and reverent.
The shadow of Spanish conquest and its missionary conversion brings the mystery and beauty of the Catholic religion into the brew. "Rosio" draws from "El Rosario Cantado," rooted in the Church's Holy Rosary. It is a shifting, sometimes drifting, sometimes urgent piece of music, with the strings displaying an intense vibrancy. These arrangements are all by Zenon. He has done a masterful job. "Cadenas" brims with a gorgeous intensity. Sax and strings converse in a spirited back and forth.
"Milagrosa," is another free-flowing integration of strings and sax, vivacious and hopeful, painted with a virtuosic fervor; and the set's closer, "Villalbeno," eases the mood into the pensive, with Zenon's alto singing through the cool wash of strings.
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